23 December 2014

Book Review: Hands of Apostasy

A few months ago I picked up Hands of Apostasy: Essays on Traditional Witchcraft at my favorite local occult shop Edge of the Circle.  I slowly made my way through this book and finally finished the last essay about ten minutes ago.  I must say there's something delightfully profane about reading essays on Traditional Witchcraft while listening to Christmas music.
I highly recommend this book for anyone with any interest in Traditional Witchcraft. 

The essays cover a wide range of subject matter from intensely academic explorations of historical practices to quick and easy essays on specific modern rituals.  There is not one bad essay in this book - and that's really saying something given the subject matter. 

I read this book with very, very little knowledge of Traditional Witchcraft (I'm more of a make stuff up as you go kind of gal).  The entirety of my knowledge of Traditional British Witchcraft comes from Hutton, Heselton, and Gardner - which is not a whole lot.  I think having a better background in Traditional Witchcraft would have made some of the reading easier, but I don't feel like I suffered for lack of background.  Take that how you will.

My favorite essay was the beautifully written "Mirror, Moon and Tides" by Levannah Morgan.  In this piece Morgan tells how she learned to scry naturally occurring tide pools and then sun and moon charged mirror bowls.  This essay has that rare quality of both being magically interesting and informative while also being a work of literary quality that actually moves the spirit.  I pretty much loved every word.

I also particularly enjoyed "Waking the Dead: The Ancient Magical Art of Necromancy" by Michael Howard and "Conjure-Charms of the Welsh Marches" by Gary St. Michael Nottingham.

My only criticism (that's barely a criticism) is that the reading level of these essays vary tremendously, to the point where it can be a little jarring as you move from essay to essay.  However, that's not a problem at all if you put the book down between essays; which you really should because these essays require thought and post-reading pondering.  A few of the essay are very dense and very academic - to the point where I actually had to break out the dictionary several times.  I have a BA in philosophy and a JD; I read Heidegger for fun. When I say an essay is difficult to read I really mean it.  It's totally worth it though.

Truly, if you have any interest at all in Traditional Witchcraft go directly to your local high quality occult shop or directly to Three Hands Press and get this book.

18 December 2014


It's almost Yule and here in the US it means that there's mistletoe hanging in every department store and many homes.  In most places this means plastic mistletoe, but some folks go the extra mile and manage to find fresh mistletoe.  It's lovely and very festive.  It also means that there are some stores I just can't go in.  Yes folks, I do not like mistletoe or - more accurately - mistletoe does not like me.

A few years ago I was hanging out in a lovely cemetery in Medford, Or and as I walked into a particular area I felt an intense aversion to it - like something really didn't want me there.  I looked up and realized I was standing under a huge clump of mistletoe in an oak tree.  Then I noticed that all of the trees in that part of the cemetery were completely infested with mistletoe, while the area I had been in before was mistletoe free.

Mistletoe Berries Uk. Licensed under PD via Wikipedia.

I didn't think much about it until I was in another Southern Oregon and had a similar experience.  Apparently mistletoe and I do not get along.  Being near too much of it absolutely makes my skin crawl.  Something about its energy and mine are just antithetical. 

This rather bizarre phenomenon made me look up some of the history and lore surrounding mistletoe.  Mistletoe is sacred to Druids and is believed to protect against evil and death (as well as lightning and a few other things).  The most famous story associated with mistletoe is its involvement in the death of Baldur, the Norse god of beauty and light (in brief: Loki did it); but despite this it is still considered a largely beneficial plant in Norse mythology.  So why does it make me feel like it hates me? 

Well, I did find one bit of lore saying the mistletoe works as protection against baleful witchcraft.  Now, I don't make a practice of casting baleful magick but a lot of what I do is a bit...well..gunmetal grey if not black exactly.  So it's possible that mistletoe just doesn't get along well with shadow magick or maybe just my flavor of it.   Very weird.





07 December 2014

Being a Mixed-Race Pagan Today

When everything started with Ferguson I wasn't going to talk about it.  When people started protesting I wasn't going to talk about it.  But you know what, with all that's happening at the moment I think I really need to talk about it.

Little ol' me
When most people look at me they don't think, "Oh, she's a latina" or "she's mixed-race" because I look pretty ethnically ambiguous.  I grew up comfortably middle-class in a liberal white bread suburb, and because I didn't look different enough for most kids to see me as "other" I wasn't really aware of race until I got older.  Of course, I also thought it was completely normal to have tostones and pasteles along with roast beef for Christmas dinner. 

However, as I got into my teens my mom started telling me stories about growing up in segregated military bases and having to sit on the upper balconies in movie theaters and having to use different drinking fountains.  It was a hell of a shock to me to think that my mom had been subjected to such insanity and the idea of anyone being treated differently because of their race was just unthinkable to my Edmonds bred mind.  The reality of her experiences were so foreign to me that I really had trouble processing them at all, let alone with any kind of relationship to my own ethnicity.  The only times I've ever had someone call my ethnicity to attention were when I was in all Hispanic neighborhoods and people spoke Spanish to me too quickly for me to understand - hardly a problem.  I've been lucky enough never to have faced prejudice because of the color of my skin (for religion, lifestyle, and fashion choices sure, but never race).

Me with my Panamanian/Puerto Rican mom and my Russian Jewish dad in 2003

My incredible good fortune along with my six of one half a dozen of the other genetics makes talking about race really hard.  Which side of the fence am I on?  My mom always called me heinz 57 sauce because I'm a mix of so many different things.  I always just called my ethnicity "slush."  I can certainly talk about white privilege because I grew up having it.  Although I am a Latina (my genetic need to feed people to show my love can attest to it), I feel like claiming my heritage is disingenuous because I never really suffered for it (unless you count some oddly skewed cultural views).  So if I stand up to speak against racism and inequality, where I am standing?  No, you don't have to be oppressed to speak out against oppression but it still feels really weird, like I'm claiming something that isn't really mine. Being mixed race makes thinking about race really complicated, let alone talking about it.  

So what does all that mean for me as a Pagan?  It means I feel an incredible amount of sympathy for the issues faced by Pagans of Color, but that I feel like a bit of an imposter going to things like the Pagans of Color Caucus.  While I'm certainly not an activist by any definition, I feel like it's my responsibility, as someone who just needs to spend some time in the sun to be obviously ethnic, to speak out against injustice.  As Pagan and an animist I see these renewed (or I suppose not renewed, just spotlighted) prejudices to be incredibly harmful not only to those who suffer them directly, but for everyone whose energy is poisoned by them.  As a Pagan I believe that nature is a living thing to be venerated and respected and that such incredible injustice and suffering can only be blasphemous to the sanctity of the earth.  That means I have to stand up and do something about it, but what? 

What can I do to help with this enormous, culturally systemic problem?  How much of my own upbringing is part of the problem?  If I can hardly think about my own race how am I supposed to stand up for someone else's?  Beginning to see the big problem here?  If I were a healer I'd probably start doing daily workings to change the energies that fuel the problem - but I'm not.  If I were an activist I'd go to protests, hand out leaflets, and get in people's faces - but I'm not.  I'm a shadow worker.  That means I tell bald truths and bring people out of their comfort zones.  That means that I can't lie to myself about my own privilege and prejudices. 

So this is me being really, really honest.  Talking about race makes me uncomfortable because I'm uncomfortable with my own race - because I have a really hard time determining what it actually is.  But in times like these I need to get over my own issues in order to help others.  Seeing people lose their lives because an authority figure was scared of their race is utterly reprehensible.  To see those authority figure let off without penalty makes me sick.  As an attorney the utter miscarriage of justice is incomprehensible to me (I mean seriously, just read the laws).  As a human being the entire situation makes me despair.  Something about how we are educating people in power and how we are training our law enforcement officers is wrong. 

Being irrationally afraid of someone because of a lack of understanding or empathy is the beginning of a slippery slope of fear and violence.  We are all human beings and need to be treated as such.  Being treated as a human being with thoughts and feelings should not be based on your race, gender, orientation, religion, or any other factor.  Are you a human being? Yes, then you have the right to live your life.  Where is the difficulty in that?  So yeah, I pretty much hate this.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)